Food Production Still Depends Too Heavily On Oil

Oil and petroleum products play a major part in every aspect of food production from synthetic fertiliser and pesticide production through processing and packaging right to final delivery in the shops.

The industry is one of the biggest users of fossil fuels and therefore is often at the mercy of fluctuations in oil and petrol prices as well as being both energy inefficient and unsustainable as reserves of oil in the world are gradually being depleted.

It is calculated that it takes more than 400 gallons of oil to feed one person for a year in the USA. Approximately a third of this goes to the manufacture of fertilisers, while another fifth is used in farm machinery. Add in the costs of the machinery that processes and packages the food and the transportation costs to the point of sale and these together explain that figure of 400 gallons per person per year.

In terms of energy conversion this food production system means that it takes three calories of energy for every single calorie of edible food produced on average. The difference when this calculation is applied to grain-fed beef is an astonishing 35 calories of energy for every one calorie of beef. Both these figures exclude the additional cost of energy input involved in food processing and transportation.

Those who advocate sustainable and organic farming point out that it is the industrial system of food production that accounts for what is argued to be such an inefficient use of energy.

The chief culprit, they say, is the amount of energy that goes into producing artificial fertilisers and pesticides, derived from such things as nitrogen or natural gas. It is calculated that as much as 40% of the energy that goes into the food production system goes into this part of the process.

It is also argued that the need for these products is precisely because of the structure of the food production system, both meat and vegetables, which have become increasingly produced in concentrated and specific areas of many countries.

Over time, such concentrated activity has depleted the nutrition of the soil, damaged ecosystems and polluted water supplies. There have also been increasing concerns about the long-term effects on human health of the residues of such chemicals in food.

Systems such as integrated pest management, organic farming and the use of more natural, low-chemical agricultural products are part of moving to more sustainable farming methods.

Using natural sources for biopesticides, yield enhancers and biofungicides can protect the land and crops and increase crop yields while leaving little or no residue in the food produced and this is the focus of the research and products being developed by biopesticides developers.

Such low-chem agricultural products are gradually replacing the older generation of artificial fertilisers and pesticides which are being withdrawn or phased out by many governments around the world. However, the process of getting this new, healthier generation of products tested, registered and licensed is both costly and lengthy. The process has also not so far been harmonised across the world and the need to do so is becoming increasingly urgent.

Other measures to reduce the energy inefficiency in food production include buying locally and organically produced food as well as reducing the amount of packaging used. While plainly consumers can take action about what they buy for themselves, they can also pressure the bigger food store chains to source more locally as well as to cut back on packaging.

Copyright (c) 2011 Alison Withers

Safety Requirements in the Food Production Industry

Anyone working with food uses shirt protection and other safety items to help contain the mess and prevent the contamination of food. Those working in food production plants have even more stringent rules. In addition to a disposable shirt and other protective clothing, employees of these plants often wear total body protection that is designed specifically for their jobs including items such as hearing protection and chain mail.

Disposable Shirt Protection And Protective Clothing

Wearing items such as disposable shirt protection and other protective garments has two important purposes in the food production industry. First, it prevents hair, lint, and any other things that may be on your clothes from getting into the food. Disposable shirt protection also keeps the food from getting onto your clothing. This prevents you from taking the food remnants home with you. They also help prevent remnants from one food accidentally falling onto surfaces outside of the work area.

Hair And Head Covering

Anytime you work with food that someone else will purchase or that will be consumed by someone else, you need to have your head and hair covered. At the very least, workers need to wear mesh or disposable paper-like hairnets. In food production plants, they may also have to wear protection such as hardhats that will keep them safe if some of the food would fall off upper conveyor belts.

Chainmail

In a meat or vegetable processing plant that requires the use of knives, workers are required to wear added safety equipment that helps prevents cuts and other injuries. Commonly referred to as chainmail, these are a metal mesh-like covering that goes over their body. It prevents the knife blade from making contact with the worker’s skin. In many cases, workers may also wear metal gloves over their regular gloves.

Gloves

Anytime you work with food, you should wear a disposable glove such as plastic or latex to prevent contaminating the food you are working with and spreading it to other edible items and preparation surfaces. In manufacturing plants, gloves are worn at all times and switched any time you move from one food item to another and several times throughout the day.

Shoes

The proper footwear is an important safety precaution in any job that involves food. In sensitive areas such as hospitals and manufacturing, workers may have to wear shoe covers or have a special pair of footwear that is used only in that area. The one constant is that the shoes cover your entire foot. This provides your feet with added protection if you should drop a knife or spill a hot liquid.

Hearing Protection

Food production plants use various pieces of industrial machinery to make the work easier and more efficient. Unfortunately, these machines also greatly increase the amount of noise within the building. This requires earplugs or earmuffs to protect your hearing.

The primary concern of any business in the food industry is the safety for the worker and for the customers consuming the products. Disposable shirt protection and other items are only part of achieving this goal. Proper education along with quality safety gear is the secret to ensuring everyone stays safe.

Middle East Unrest Exposes Food Production’s Vulnerability to Oil

Oil prices have climbed to almost the heights of two years ago as a result of the popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East and there is no telling whether they will rise further or how long they will stay that way.

Meanwhile, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that food prices had risen in February 2011 above their previous peak in 2008 and warned that they could rise even further as the unrest continues or spreads further.

All this emphasises the vulnerability of food production because of its dependence on oil and petroleum products for much of the process, starting from the production of synthetic fertiliser and continuing through industrial-style farming to the transport and processing of produce before it reaches the shops.

The connection between oil and food production and the effect of oil prices on food prices has been well rehearsed, and it is ironic that these democracy movements should have first emerged in protest at high food prices, among other things, in an area that is a major oil producer.

But the most interesting piece of recent news is an article in the China Post, Singapore, on March 7 2011. The piece, reporting on a workshop among scientists, revealed that unrestrained manufacture of what it called “cheap” pesticides and their overuse was causing problems throughout Asia’s rice paddy fields, which it said was destroying the surrounding ecosystems and actually allowing pests to thrive and multiply.

It reported that the problem was that poorly-trained farmers who were under pressure to raise crop yields were relying too much on these chemical pesticides. According to one of the participating scientists, George Lukacs, of Australia, large outbreaks of pests, called “pest storms” have been reported in China as a result.

All this suggests that the alleged benefits of cheap oil-dependent pesticides are far outweighed by the consequences of their over-use and it all reinforces the urgent need to give farmers across the world access to equally cheap but more environmentally friendly agricultural products, particularly pesticides, in order to reduce the dependence on synthetic pesticides and the reliance of oil in the food production process.

Equally important is the need for farmers to have widespread access to proper training in their use.

Research into alternatives to the older generation of synthetic, chemical-based pesticides has produced many safer, low-chemical products from the biopesticides developers. They include biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers that harness use natural ingredients to which local pests and plant diseases are vulnerable.

They include crop solutions to protect soy beans, corn and wheat as well as a variety of vegetables including protection from bacterial diseases in tomatoes and peppers, to provide protection from soil diseases in potatoes and biofungicides to protect leafy vegetables from fungal diseases by harnessing the powerful biochemistry of Bacillus subtilis, a bacterial microorganism that is commonly found in the environment.

These low-chem agricultural products also leave little or no residue in the foods produced and in the land, so that damage to the surrounding ecosystem is minimised. They make it possible for farmers to increase their crop yields by cutting down the losses from diseases without depleting the land’s goodness.

It is possible that the turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East and consequent uncertainty about oil supplies will give governments across the world the incentive to accelerate their processes of getting alternative, natural and more environmentally friendly, less oil-dependent agricultural products through the registration and licensing processes more quickly and available to farmers more cheaply.

It may be hoped also that the result will be healthier, more natural and affordable food for all consumers around the world and better protection for the environment on which we all depend.

Copyright (c) 2011 Alison Withers

Tips for Food Product Development

A significant number of companies around the globe are not actively developing any new food products. Whereas, many companies those are engaged in new food product development, do not explicitly involve the consumers in their market research. This article lists out some innovations in the field of food product development which can be adopted by various companies to both enrich the food quality and thus increase their business.

The basic segment of manufacturing food products depends on how well you pack your product. Some of the innovations that can be adopted in food packaging are:

  • New packaging that can be used both in microwave and oven and thus increases versatility.
  • New packaging materials to be used to improve product shelf-life, quality and freshness.
  • Different packaging that helps in presenting the food product in different and new ways. This can be done by creating new graphic designs and packaging shapes for your product.
  • Packaging patterns that can increase the ease of use. For instance, milk cartons that are opened easily.

However, whatever be the packaging strategy, the major factor in food product development is the food stuff itself. The same is the case with beverage development. To create development in that area one needs to bring new ethnic concepts and has to start producing organic and health foods. Addition of vitamins, bacterial cultures and minerals, i.e. fortification, will also help. Some other innovations that could help in food product development include:

  • Merging – this refers to the merging of 2 complimentary or similar flavors, for instance, some chocolates where white chocolate and milk are brought together. This can also mean bringing complimentary products together, for instance some of the Lunchable products where, ham, crackers and cheese are brought together in the same packaging.
  • Segmentation – this is where the manufacturer finds simple ways to allow customers to customize products to their personal needs. For instance the ‘salt-n-shake’ potato chips where a separate sachet of salt in provided so that the consumer gets the chance to decide the quantity of salt they want to apply to the chips. Another form of segmentation is the ‘multi-packs’ offer wherein the customer gets to use only a part of the product at one time depending on the number of servings required.
  • Composite materials – this can be interpreted as the concept of combining foods that are different properties into a single structure. This strategy is usually present in cereal bars, multi-vitamins, filled pasta, ‘bubble-and-squeak’ and several other products, especially the ones where the consumers are looking for ease of use.
  • Preliminary action – this is a very commonly applied principle for food product development. Some examples in this case would be de-seeded vegetables and pre-cooked meals.

Almost similar strategies should be adopted in beverage development. For instance, recognizing consumer needs in the market which can be filled by a new innovative beverage brand is one of the first step in the beverage development. Similarly, in order to maximize taste and the functionality of the new beverage brand, beverage formulation, which is a very intricate process should be done thoroughly allow enough time to go through every possible ingredient options.